Yesterday we discussed the simplistic diabetes/depression argument. Today we will look at the no psychotropic’s argument. In other words—Christians shouldn’t take medicine.
This particular approach has two variants. The first type of “no psychotropic's” rejects not only psychotropic’s but any form of medicine. Their view is much more involved than I will present it, but for shortness sake, allow me to summarize. Essentially the belief here is that taking medicine is distrusting God. Rather than trusting in man (medicine) we should pray and believe that God will heal us. If he chooses not to heal us then that is His will. More extreme varieties of this belief will refuse all forms of medicine even to the point of death. (You’ve maybe seen cases of this in the news).
The second type is really the one that I am concerned with. This view denies that biology can be the cause of psychological stress. According to one proponent of this view, “the mentally ill are really people with unsolved personal problems”. Even things like Schizophrenia are really just camouflage for the underlying issues. Typically it is unresolved sin.
Most of my readers probably have ruffled feathers by now. How can you possibly say that depression, anxiety, schizophrenia is MY fault? Why would I WANT to be depressed? Why would somebody WANT to have anxiety or schizophrenia?
Listen, the guys that hold these views are not stupid. They are also not mean people that want to destroy people. They love the Lord, they love the Scriptures, they love people. And they truly want to see these people healed and experience God’s awesomeness. So why do they say such things?
I will try to sum up the view as best as I can but if this really peaks your interest I would suggest reading material by Jay Adams and those influenced by him. The driving force behind this belief is that God is central and the Bible is sufficient. It is largely reactionary against the excesses of naturalistic psychology and Christian integrationist.
Eric Johnson in his book on Soul-Care sums up their passion nicely when he states:
Because modern psychotherapy and counseling discourse make no substantial reference to God and sin, counseling by Christians largely based on that work will not rely on God and the power of Christ’s salvation in its soul-healing, and will unwittingly contribute to the substitution of the Christian religion with another, secular religion. The very glory of God is at stake here, and the BCM [Biblical Counseling Movement] has seen itself as on a prophetic mission, challenging God’s people to choose God and his salvation for the cure of the soul rather than rely on secular (that is, merely human) counseling strategies. (Johnson, Foundations of Soul-Care, p.107
If you want to understand this view then you must understand their passion for seeing sin as real and the significant problem with humanity. You also need to know that they believe Christ and the Scriptures are the singularly sufficient for dealing with this fundamental problem.
So how would someone from this school of thought answer our question? Should a depressed Christian take medicine? First of all they would say that your identity is in Christ not in depression. You are a Christian that is experiencing symptoms of depression—but your fundamental identity is in Christ. What will fix your depression is not medicine. That will only mask the great issues that are going on. What you need is biblical truth and perhaps repentance. That is of course putting it coldly—such a thing would be done more warmly and lovingly in a counseling setting. But at the end of the day this is the position.
Not just William Cowper but scores of people like him. John Newton, who loved Christ and treasured the Scriptures, did not take a rebuke and repent type of method. He understood that Cowper’s problem was not necessarily unconfessed sin or anything like that.
Now I know that any strong proponent of this view would argue that the only for sure thing that we have to go by are the Scriptures, not John Newton. Maybe Newton was wrong and Cowper was not counseled correctly. Maybe. But is there a difference between believing in the sufficiency of Scripture and believing that it is Scripture is sufficient in all areas?
That question just opened an entire debate. One that would take far too long to discuss here. So, I’ll take you back to my presuppositions and you can do the research yourself. I believe that Scripture is totally sufficient and adequate for that which it sets out to do. But it’s not a sufficient guide for giving us the history of early American colonialism. Nor is it necessarily a sufficient guide for fully understanding anatomy and physiology.
You could have given Cowper a million bible verses. He knew them all. He understood grace. He understood justification by faith alone. He knew Jesus. But occasionally something would snap in his mind and there would be a radical disconnect between worldview and his personal theology. He believe the gospel was true for everyone in creation but himself. Did he need more teaching? Maybe you could argue that. But is it possible that Cowper was experiencing something biological?
At the end of the day I just find this view overly simplistic. It sounds really good and convincing when it comes to exalting the Scriptures. But it runs the risk of making the Bible fulfill promises that it never makes. There are decent arguments from godly people that believe medicine is sometimes necessary.
So what’s at stake in this discussion? I’ll try to answer that tomorrow…